They’ll Try to Erase Us

Last month was not a good one for free speech.

First, in a vote split along party lines, the FCC repealed Net Neutrality, undoing regulations that has kept internet companies from blocking sites, throttling internet speeds, or accepting paid prioritization of certain site or services. (For more on Net Neutrality and why it’s important, check out our last post).

Then, the Center for Disease Control advised its employees to refrain from using these seven words in regards to the 2018 CDC budget: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, science-based. This action is reflective of a larger trend of censorship under the Trump administration.

As a librarian, the availability of information and the ability to search for information precisely is highly important to me. That said, these two actions do not sit peacefully with me.

Implications of censorship

The repeal of Net Neutrality means that internet companies can, in theory, start creating internet packages much like cable packages — charging customers depending on what they’d like to access on the internet. Net Neutrality made it so that any person with access to an internet connection could access any information on the web without the internet provider interfering in any way. This has made it possible for folks from historically minoritized or silenced communities to access information, exchange ideas, and organize. The repeal of Net Neutrality threatens this. Soon the internet, with access as we’ve known it, may be most available to those with the financial means to pay for the most amenities making the internet another facet of US life stratified by privilege and financial resources.

The Trump Administration’s vocabulary-limiting directive to the CDC is a method of violence and erasure. An administration forbidding any government agency from using certain words in any context is alarming to me. But this is even more so when the banned words are used to describe communities already at high risk of abuse by way of systemic erasure. For example, the rates at which trans women of color experience violence is increasing every year. 2017 has been the most fatal year to trans women on historical record. And instead of declaring a public health emergency, the CDC has been ordered to steer clear of the word “transgender” altogether.

Street art in Medellín, Colombia. Hindu god, Krishna, playing the flute with the word “RESISTANCE” written underneath.

Resisting erasure

Erasure is the aim of the most recent FCC and CDC policies. Inhibiting equitable access to information online and banning words from government speech makes this aim explicit.The repeal of Net Neutrality shows the FCC’s allegiance to big corporations over their dedication to equitable access to information for American people. The banned words present a frightening narrative of calculated erasure and a confusing refusal for a scientific office to use the words “science-based.” No Net Neutrality means that communities that we have created or fostered online are at risk of being stifled, if not disbanded. Banning the CDC from saying certain words means that members of the most vulnerable communities are being intentionally left out of conversations about health and survival.

In response to these two things, I think we have two options:

  1. Let this calculated erasure happen.
  2. Resist the hell out of that.

Grow where you’re planted

The most powerful thing we can do to combat this erasure is to take root in the places we live and grow where we’re planted. That is, to take our online organizing into the real world and form book clubs, dinner groups, lending circles with folks of varying incomes and educational backgrounds. To get library cards and take part in both building and enjoying our community resources. To participate in or start community gardens. To take our responsibility to our community seriously by spending our money conscientiously. To eat, to shop, to build community at places owned by trans folks, queer folks, immigrants, and people of color.

tweet from @_ihateyall reading “Mood all 2018” with a picture of a garden with flowers and a sign posted in it that reads: “I’m Trying Hard to Grow… So Please Don’t Walk On Me! Thank You!”

In effort to be better ingrained within our own community, the Urban Wayfarer team is creating a list of businesses in Denver community who are owned and serve individuals from the LGBTQIA+, immigrant, and POC communities. Since many librarians will be visiting Denver in early February for ALA Midwinter, we want to give our visiting librarians a peek into our city and encourage librarians to visit and support these locally owned businesses.

We feel that the history of Denver is one that needs to be told, and we want to support our community in the best way that we can. Each of these locally owned stores, restaurants, galleries, etc. has a story and plays a crucial role in the story of Denver. This list will be continually updated well beyond ALA Midwinter in February and we are happy to hear suggestions from our community. To all of our community members, the librarians and information professionals visiting Denver, and to our friends who love helping and being a part of community; stay tuned. We’re excited for 2018.